The first week of November we traveled to Nicaragua. The border crossing is quite incredibly inefficient, with kilometers of semis lined up waiting for up to days on end to cross. We, however, made it through fairly quickly. The bus was fumigated to prevent the spread of something, I’m not sure what. We first headed to Managua, the capital, which has a very busy, big-city feel. We were fortunate to experience Nicaragua the week prior to elections, so we saw a bunch of propaganda for the candidates, the majority of which was for Ortega, the incumbent and newly re-elected. In Managua we visited the national palace and theater. We later moved on to Granada, which is a very wealthy city in comparison to other parts of the country. It is much smaller and has a very European feel to it, which I was not expecting to encounter. I loved this city. I had the good fortune of seeing an exposition of art and dance on the Day of the Dead, November 2nd, and we sat out at night in restaurants which all have tables out in the street. We toured Las Isletas in Lake Nicaragua by small boat, which are a bunch of tiny islands. There are houses, and couple of churches and schools, to which people travel by rowboats. The scenery is breathtaking. We visited a ceramics workshop and small store, where we saw the process of making ceramics and got to participate as well. I have a great respect for those artisans, as the “pot” I attempted to throw on the wheel (foot-powered) probably resembled an alien life form. We also went to a huge market where we purchased lots of souvenirs and gifts for friends and family. Our final destination in Nicaragua was Río San Juan del Sur, where the river meets the Pacific Ocean. It was a small beach with a nice hotel in which we did a lot of much needed relaxing after a busy week. I had a hard time using the córdoba, the money of Nicaragua, since it was yet another currency to get used to. I enjoyed very much, however, a certain brand of ice cream, Eskimo, which sells humongous triple cones for a little over a dollar. Such a good price was too good to pass up (more than once).
For Thanksgiving break we traveled to Panamá. I went with four friends to Panama City, on a very cold sixteen-hour bus ride. I don’t understand why the buses keep the air conditioning at North Pole temperatures in a region where the people think 65 degrees is really cold. The trip was well worth it. I loved Panama City, especially the old part of the city. In general, the city was very different from the other cities I’ve seen in Central America. It reminded me a lot of Seattle. We also visited the Panama Canal, which has a fascinating history and is quite impressive. We were lucky to see a crocodile in a dam right near the canal. All you could see was what resembled a log, but it was moving and then went underwater. We spent another night in a bus to spend the rest of our break in Bocas del Toro, on the Caribbean coast of Panamá, quite close to the border with Costa Rica. We took water taxis to the island we stayed on, Bastimento, on which there is not much more than the hostel, the beach, and a species of tiny red frogs that is endangered and protected. Our whole group of ten went to Bocas del Toro, where we had a blast on the beach, playing volleyball, and hiking. It was sad not to be with our families on Thanksgiving, but we treated ourselves to a nice seafood dinner out, complete with pumpkin pie we found in one restaurant.
I am clueless as to how it is that we have only two short weeks left in Costa Rica. We have a couple of papers, presentations, and several final exams to keep us busy, although we would all rather not spend the last of our time here studying. I want to spend as much time with my host family as possible. The family just bought the most adorable puppy last week, so I am having a lot of fun playing with my host sisters and the puppy, Luna. I’ve really missed having an animal around, aside from all the dogs in the streets, which are a huge problem in Costa Rica. They are everywhere. Interestingly enough, Panama City was filled with stray cats instead of dogs. There are adoption programs here to reduce the problem, but the need for more is evident. I intend to make the most of the short time remaining for me here, and the last weeks I will likely be warm for a while. I am now so accustomed to the climate that I do get chilly sometimes, which does not bode well for my return in the middle of winter.